(Gal 3:19 ESV) Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring [Jesus] should come to whom the promise had been made [the Jews], and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.
“Because of transgressions.” Because of sin.
(Gal 3:21-22 ESV) Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Does the Law contradict the Abrahamic covenant? No. The two covenants had two different purposes. The promise given to Abraham was to bring righteousness (by faith). The Law — indeed “the Scripture” — trapped the Jews in sin to demonstrate the necessity of salvation by faith.
(Gal 3:23 ESV) Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
This really is tough language. Again, Paul asserts that the Law was a “prison” — a place for transgressors. Why?
(Gal 3:24 ESV) 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
“Guardian” is not a good translation for παιδαγωγὸς (paidagogos) — at least, not to a lawyer. The word does not mean “teacher” or “legal parent” but “slave charged as protector” and even “disciplinarian.” The role of the pedagogue was to safely escort a child to school and discipline him as necessary. Hence, the Law was given to teach us God’s will and to show us more completely what is right and wrong — and to impose discipline when needed.
Among the Greeks and Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood … .
Richard Hays comments,
The idea that Paul is pointing to the Law’s disclosive function of identifying sin as transgression against God’s will is supported by v. 22a, which highlights Scripture’s revelatory function of disclosing the universality of human sin (cf. Rom 3:9–20). Furthermore, the parallel in Rom 4:15 occurs in a passage very similar to Galatians 3:1, dealing with the promise to Abraham, and the key term παράβασις (parabasis) appears in both passages.
At the same time, there is also a good case to be made for the third interpretation (the Law as a restraint on sin), because Paul goes on in vv. 23–25 to explicate the Law’s function as one of restrictive but protective custody, using the metaphor of the παιδαγωγός paidagōgos (see the Commentary on 3:24–25).
It is probably best, then, to read these successive depictions of the Law’s identifying and restraining functions as a twofold explanation of what Paul means by saying that the Law was “added because of transgressions.”
Richard B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians,” in 2 Corinthians-Philemon (vol. 11 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), n.p. (paragraphing added).
(Gal 3:25-26 ESV) 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
We are now “sons of God.” The meaning is bigger than most realize. For example, the Israelites are called sons of God in —
(Deu 14:1-2 ESV) “You are the sons of the LORD your God. … 2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
In other words, Paul is declaring both Jews and Gentiles Israelites, chosen, treasured by God.
But he is also referring, I believe, to —
(Psa 2:7-8 ESV) 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”
Jesus himself is the Son of God because he is the Messiah and so the King of Israel. If we’re all “sons of God” then we participate in the blessings of Jesus. We are credited with his righteousness. We are God’s child. We are royalty. We are priests.
So why “through faith”? Well, because of the promise made to Abraham, and because of what Paul said to Peter —
(Gal 2:15-16 NET) 15 “We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”
“Faithfulness of Jesus Christ” is πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (pisteos Iesou Christou), that is, “faith of Jesus Christ” — as Tyndale translated the phrase back before the KJV. Modern translators go with either “faith in” or “faithfulness of,” with “faithfulness of” gaining the most recent traction, because it makes so much sense.
Jesus was faithful to God’s covenant with Abraham, as well as the later covenants, by giving himself on the cross. We join with Jesus by our own faith/faithfulness. We become like Jesus by faith because faith, in the Greek, includes faithfulness. We are faithful to the faithful One.
Abraham’s faith was not just believing God to be God, but believing his promises and then living a life built on that faith. Abraham’s faith and faithfulness were inseparable, as shown by his willingness to offer Isaac on Mt. Moriah — the place where Jesus was crucified. “God will provide.”
(Gal 3:27-28 ESV) 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Now, I’m getting more and more hesitant to quote passages that mention baptism, because inevitably the comment box will fill up with regurgitated arguments about the moment when salvation attaches to the convert — completely ignoring whatever point Paul was actually intending to make.
In this case, his point is that, by becoming “in Christ” we become clothed with Christ. “Put on” is the verb used for putting on clothes. Hence, God looks at us and sees Jesus. Of course, we as faithful followers become more and more like Jesus while clothed with him.
Another consequence of this clothing is that distinctions between Jews and Greeks go away. We’re all Jewish carpenters. (There is, of course, much more to be said on this important passage, but not on today’s theme.)
(Gal 3:29 ESV) 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
If you belong to Jesus, then you are a descendant of Abraham (borrowing your Jewishness from your Savior), and therefore an heir — as God promised Abraham.
Hence, as an heir, you are not a slave — and therefore not under the Law.
(Gal 4:1-5 ESV) I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
So notice Paul’s logic. The Gentiles are saved by faith by becoming Jewish through faith in Jesus. Because they are Jewish, they are heirs, children, not slaves, and so recipients of the promise to Abraham to save by faith, blessing the nations.
Now, this being the case, it must be true that the promise to Abraham was always in effect — until Jesus and until now. It did not jump over the Mosaic age. Indeed, Paul pretty plainly argues that it was in effect throughout the Mosaic age — because the Law was insufficient to save. “The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin.” It just didn’t work as a means of salvation. It still doesn’t.
But this doesn’t mean the Jews were lost or only saved from the moment a sacrifice was made until their next sin. They were, just like Gentiles today, saved by faith thanks to God’s promises to Abraham.